I fall into a category of fliers that borders on extreme. Not “shoot-the-canyon wing-suit extreme” – but I’ve traveled for business for over 20 years and I average around 75 round trip flights a year. I’ve seen how it’s gotten easier and cheaper for frequent flyers thanks to things like more efficient planes and the Platinum Card American Express card but this doesn’t mean that everyone knows how to save money on traveling. I believe I do. On many trips, I take a travel SUP for mixing in morning or evening stand up paddle sessions where I can. I’m not bragging, I’m qualifying. What I’m about to tell you about carrying gear on a plane, I say with experience.
Testing My SUP Travel Theories
I fly Southwest heavily. Give or take some fuzzy math, they handle 90% of my air travel needs. I find I get the best service, the nicest co-travelers, and the fastest rewards from their programs for my US (and recently International) travel.
But every few years I make it a point to fly other carriers to mix it up a bit, and see what if anything I’m missing.
That’s the case now, as I sit on a non-Southwest flight from Dallas (DFW) headed West in to the desert with my SUP paddle stored in the belly of this ancient flying beast. I say ‘ancient’ because there’s no wifi/on demand entertainment, the tray table is broken, and the cabin smells like what I imagine a Laura Croft tomb raiding destination might smell like, starting with “musty.”
The crew is nice enough and once in the air, they quickly apologize, saying that there’s no WiFi, but TV content will start soon on the small flip down screens in the ceiling. I assumed the worst and wasn’t disappointed, with free advertorial and commercials mixed into reality shows and promos. Oh, and if we’d like we can actually hear it. Headsets are only $5.
No thank you, I’ve got some writing to do.
Fees Add Injury, Pre-Insult
Usually when I travel, I have a JP Australia breakdown SUP paddle that I shove into a backpack with my inflatable for easy handling. Its truly ‘the bomb’ for easy travel – though I probably shouldn’t write that from the air. That said, sometimes I fly with a full size single or double paddle bag so I can carry my ultralight paddles. I end up carrying a suitcase, my briefcase, and the paddle or backpack/SUP for a total of three bags. Carry on two, check one.
On Southwest, policy is that first two checked bags are free. While the policy on checked bags calls for anything over 62 inches as oversize (L+W+H), and max I’ll pay $75 for the gear. I can tell you that recently I have not been charged on Southwest for my full size paddle. Since I’m a frequent flyer, perhaps it was just thrown on a few times as a courtesy? Either way, what service. So today I didn’t think twice about flying my Kialoa paddle from Texas to my next stop. I brought it like I always do, without thinking about additional costs.
Today on arrival at non-Southwest gates, I checked in and was charged $25 to check the <2 lbs. paddle, and then surcharged $100 for having an oversized bag at the counter. I staggered on hearing that fee. That’s $125 one way, $50 more than my cost would have been on Southwest. My discounted seat suddenly got expensive. Oddly, they sent me to a special penalty line at the counter to pay the extra hundred. It feels like if I’m going to pay more it would be a special line to accept my extra money, but sadly they positioned me behind others with ‘payment problems’ and there I waited for the monetary extraction.
I made it to the gate, feeling lighter without my moola. But not light enough! I was told that the plane was nearly boarded and no room remained for roller bags. I was introduced to complimentary, mandatory bag check at the gate for my roller bag. That weighs as much as 14 paddles, yet somehow they magically accommodated the tiny, weighted roller with the “complimentary” smile for FREE. It was difficult to keep cool. I don’t mind logical rules, but it was increasingly difficult to understand their logic.
The mandatory bag check really hit me hard when I got to my seat and the overhead bin was empty. Unbelievable. Along with the others who were forced to check rollers, I questioned the crew. “Ugh, we hate it when they do that at the gate!”, says the attendant. My comment? “Yeah, it totally sucks.” He agrees, “I know, it really does. They should check with us.” Though my briefcase would clearly fit under the seat, I threw it up top in the bin, refusing to do anything logical. Later, I laughed as they offered to SELL me a snack. At least they were consistently illogical.
A “Fare” Warning
So here I sit typing away – tuneless, without my $125 dollars or my belongings. I gave it shot. I changed things up, flew a non-Southwest flight and paid the price – literally and figuratively. LOOK – I know this doesn’t happen every flight… but maybe one story like this is enough.
Though the seat fare was $10 dollars cheaper to book on non-Southwest vs. Southwest, I paid dearly for not remembering the fees and the soft cost of poor service. Honestly, I couldn’t afford to fly this airline much more without giving up my water lifestyle during the week. Here’s why:
By using the $50 dollars savings I get opting for Southwest, I calculate I could save $7,500 in SUP gear transport fees based on my average 75 round trip flights a year, or $3,750 if I consider that I may only carry my SUP/surf gear half the time. With sponsorship dollars and my own dollars at stake – that’s huge.
In their way, Southwest not charging me baggage fees and offering oversize fees at $50 less per one way trip than competing airlines enables me and people like me to put more people on the water with stand up paddle. Add services like wifi, on-demand content on my tablet, no baggage fees, and a streamlined ground crew waiting to help, and there’s no good reason to ever fly any other airline again. Unless you can convince me differently – I’m #SouthwestforLife